Lotus Buddhism / FAQ / The Lotus Sutra’s Unique Teachings
on Attaining Enlightenment

The Lotus Sutra’s Unique Teachings
on Attaining Enlightenment

Among many teachings of Mahayana Buddhism, the Lotus Sutra is regarded as the highest and most revolutionary in its concepts leading to Buddhism’s ultimate goal: attaining Buddhahood.

For hundreds of years, however, the Sutra was considered by monks as beautiful poetry and a theoretical teaching - without a way of practice. It was far from the reach of ordinary people in society.

Then, in13th century Japan, a Buddhist reformer, Nichiren, deeply impressed by the Sutra’s teachings, devoted his life to studying and teaching its doctrines.  Nichiren encapsulated the essence of the Lotus Sutra in a simple way of practice in daily life - making it accessible to ordinary people.  The practical way of accessing the spirit or essence of the Sutra, and the benefits derived from applying its doctrines in daily life - contributed to its appeal and widespread in society.

The essence of the Lotus Sutra is its revelation of the capacity of each individual to enjoy a secure, dignified and meaningful happy life in one’s current circumstances. This was a revolutionary departure from pre-Lotus sutras, which conditioned enlightenment by a lengthy practice of several lifetimes.

To pave the way for any individual to enjoy this highest state of existence, the Lotus Sutra abolished all categories of differentiation and discrimination among people.  Its text then can be regarded as the oldest document on equality of all people to enjoy the highest state of existence - that of enlightenment - as they are, equally and without any discrimination.

Transforming sufferings, living in peace and security, and treasuring humanism of all people - can be described as the dream - or aspiration - of what humanity really desired deep in the  heart of people.   Those who participated in the gathering described in the Lotus Sutra were called “truth-seekers”, and they manifest the deepest spiritual desire of humanity, aiming for living a meaningful enjoyable existence, in which evil tendencies are defeated, and in which peace, prosperity and good fortune prevail.

All people deserve enjoying the wonder of enlightenment

The Lotus Sutra stands out as a unique document, which abolished all categories of discrimination among people: age, gender, sexuality, appearance, race, and social position - viewing any individual as respect-worthy “treasure tower‘ - in the vocabulary of the sutra.  In this, the Lotus sutra can be considered as the oldest document on the human right for living one’s life in harmony and peace.

The Power of Transformation

Among the qualities by which the lotus flower is highly regarded are beauty, purity and resistance to dirt - a feature called “self-cleaning”- becoming unaffected by the muddy environment around. This feature is taken as a reference to the power of transformation, metaphorically signifying that an individual, who is among life’s hardships and problematic environment can also grow unaffected by the negative surroundings:

“As SGI President Daisaku Ikeda has written, the Lotus Sutra is ultimately a teaching of empowerment. It “teaches us that the inner determination of an individual can transform everything; it gives ultimate expression to the infinite potential and dignity inherent in each human life”.

The Lotus Flower as a metaphor

In addition to its outstanding purity, the most outstanding meaning derived from the lotus flower relates to the implication of the bond between causes of action with their future consequences.

The central part of the flower is a container of its seeds, and seeds represent the Cause (of its growth), while the full booming of the flower’s petals represents the final Effect (of the growth of the seeds). Both “Cause” and “Effect” are visible at the same time within the fully mature flower, signifying the principle of the bond between our actions (causes) we make - and their future consequences (effects). 

The poetry style of the text of the Lotus Sutra:

The introduction of the Lotus Sutra describes a gathering between the Buddha and his disciples, which took place about eight years before the Buddha’s passing (c 500 BC) - at a mountain in Rajagriha - called Eagle Peak in North-East India.  From this realistic scenery of the place of the Buddha’s discourse with his followers, the text of the Sutra gradually shifts towards describing a fantastic field of magnificent images and occurrences - taking place beyond the constraints of time and space, with rich images expressing the Buddha’s mind of enlightenment. 

In a poetic style, the Sutra presents a dream-like journey through the mind of the Buddha. It starts with a transformation of the place of the gathering into an environment filled with wonders, rich in colours and great treasures. The text describes a fantastic field of nature with deliberately exaggerated dimensions, inhabited by a a huge number of beautiful, peaceful beings, some described as ‘gods with beautiful voices’ playing heavenly music resounding from ‘golden instruments’, while flowers of fragrance fall over the participants. This atmosphere of pleasure, security, peace was an inspiration for the world of enlightenment.  In this metaphoric style, the sutra provides its teachings in forms of beautiful stories, as would a compassionate mother tell her child to inspire and empower her listener with attractive and meaningful tales.

The text of the sutra resembles a description of a dream showing the power of the mind, which is beyond the restrictions of time and space.  The poetry style was deliberately employed to give the text unrestricted flexibility and depth.  This style was necessary to convey extremely profound principles and parables - aimed at presenting a message, which would be general and valid in any situation.

The Buddha projected to his listeners grand visions in the form of parables and metaphors - aiming to convey messages of compassion, wisdom and the potential of living with inner freedom and shared joy.

After the description of that journey into the field of enlightenment, the scenery of the Sutra returns back to the gathering where it started at Eagle Peak, with the participants inspired and filled with lifeforce and desire for transmission of the teaching of enlightenment far and wide into the future.

It seems at first puzzling why the text of the sutra tends to deliberately create the atmosphere of fantasy, in which events are not constrained by the spatiotemporal reality.  The intention of the Sutra was to employ imagery and parables to encode and express its universal principles and teachings, conveyed by the metaphors. Because there was no time or space restriction in the offered parables, then the essence of their messages become valid at any time and any place in which human beings experience the desire for transforming sufferings and attaining enlightenment.